Prior to writing my first book, I had never written a book before, never promoted a book before and I knew no one who did any of those things.
My author journey has been the most difficult undertaking of my life. Everything I learned, I learned through the School of Hard Knocks.
But, eventually, I figured things out. I learned what to do and what not to do – and sold a lot of books.
PART I -FAILURES AND LESSONS
Literary Agents – My First 144 Failures
After completing the initial draft of my manuscript in 2009, I mailed out 144 query letters to literary agents specializing in self-help. Only 30 responded. All 30 said No!
Literary Agents are wary of first-time authors. First-time authors have no proven track record and, for that reason, it’s very hard to get a traditional publisher. Nepotism is your best bet. Find someone you know who can open up the door for you to a literary agent.
Traditional Publishers – My Next 136 Failures
After my literary agent fail, I mailed out 136 query letters directly to traditional publishers. Most didn’t respond. Of the few who did respond, all but one sent back slip sheet form letters, essentially saying No Thanks!
I mailed my manuscript to the one and only publisher who said YES. Four months later, my publisher filed for bankruptcy.
At this point I felt I was out of options and decided to self-publish. I did my research and selected what I believed to be the best Self-Publishing company, at the time, MillCity Press. MillCity cost me about $6,000 to publish Rich Habits and eight months later my book was published.
Traditional publishers are wary of first-time authors. There’s simply too many unknowns with first-time authors:
- Writing Quality – Seasoned authors are less risky. They very likely have mastered the craft of writing a book. Novice authors are a big question mark and expose the publisher to more risk.
- Media Contacts – Novice authors likely have few, if any, media connections, unless they are a celebrity or a prominent figure.
- Followers – Novice authors very likely have a small email database, unless they are a celebrity or prominent figure.
- Brand – Novice authors don’t have a brand, unless they are a celebrity or prominent figure.
- Industry Knowledge – Novice authors are new to the author business. They don’t know what they don’t know. As a result, they make mistakes or don’t do what they should be doing. There is a greater learning curve for novice authors.
Once again, your best bet is nepotism. Ask everyone you know if they know someone in traditional publishing so they can open up the door for you.
If a traditional publisher is small, they may not be financially sound.
- Have they been in business for a long time?
- Have they published any successful books?
- Who are the principals behind the publisher? Do those principals have many years of publishing experience?
The self-publishing industry has changed. There are now some really good self-publishers who do as good a job as traditional publishers in editing, design, printing and distribution.
Traditional publishers have a number of value propositions self publishers lack:
- Distribution Channel – Traditional publishers still own the book store distribution channel. The elephant in the room is Barnes & Noble, which has struggled financially. If Barnes & Noble ever goes out of business, traditional publishers will lose their biggest distributor and diminish the distribution channel advantage they have over self-publishers.
- Resources – Traditional publishers fund everything: structural editing (how the book flows), copy editing (grammar, punctuation and sentence structure), design (front cover, back cover, spine, internal design – formatting), printing costs, distribution costs, promotion and marketing costs.
- Media Relations – Traditional publishers have internal and external publicists with strong ties to the media and influencers.
- Traditional Publishers Invest in Successful Books – If your book does very well, meaning it sells out within a few months, traditional publishers will invest more money and resources in promoting and marketing your book.
The most successful authors are the ones who do the best job promoting their books. Traditional publishers do very little to promote and market books, initially, although they tout that as one of their major value propositions. If your book does not sell out within the first few months, your publisher will move on to the next author. What keeps the publisher engaged, are authors who do a great job getting media exposure for their books, which is what makes books sell.
Traditional publishers invest in the low-hanging fruit – books that sell.
Book Review Editors – My Next 2,000 Failures
I mailed over 1,000 books to newspaper and magazine book review editors asking them to review my book. My cost? $3,500, including postage. No one responded. And not one editor returned my follow-up calls or responded to my follow-up emails.
Getting book reviews is meaningless. They do not help you sell books. Amazon reviews, however, do influence book buyers.
After a few months of being up and selling on Amazon, you should start to get Amazon book reviews. To accelerate the process, consistently ask readers and everyone you know to review your book on Amazon.
Speaking Engagements – My Next 150 Failures
To try to create some buzz, I spent 18 months doing 150 free speaking engagements. I spoke to over 2,000 people at high schools, colleges, libraries, churches and business associations, you name it. I spoke at night, at lunch, in the mornings, on Saturdays and on Sundays.
I gave away about 2,000 books, setting me back another $6,000.
Speaking engagements don’t sell books but they do help you to sharpen your message and become a much better speaker and communicator. Do as many speaking engagements as you can. In my opinion, fifty is the magic number. After fifty speaking engagements, you will have evolved into a pretty good speaker.
Publicists – My Next Three Failures
I spent about $25,000 on three different publicists. Only one publicist provided any real value. Even so, I got very little media publicity and sold very few books.
Good publicists are expensive but they are worth it. The best have powerful media contacts. Before you sign up with a publicist, ask the prospective publicist for contact information on three or more of their author-clients. Then call the authors to find out if the publicist was worth the money. How many books did the publicist help them sell? What major media outlets did the publicist get them?
For those first three and a half years, I spent nearly $70,000, thousands of hours and all I had to show for it were 706 books sold.
I was depressed, emotionally spent, and in my mind, out $70,000.
I lost all of my confidence and felt like a complete failure. More than once, during this hellish ordeal, I penciled in my journal my desire to just die to end this nightmare. I cursed the dreamer inside of me. What a fool, I thought I was.
PART II – FROM FAILURE TO BESTSELLING AUTHOR – IN JUST ONE DAY
Just when I was about to quit, everything changed:
- On July 16th, 2013, a Yahoo Finance video interview I had done, unexpectedly went viral with over 2 million hits.
- On July 19, 2013, Dave Ramsey, the # 3 radio host in the US, saw the Yahoo video and interviewed me on my Rich Habits research and my book. Ramsey had, at the time, 8.7 million devoted listeners.
- That same day, my book Rich Habits rocketed to #7 on Amazon in ALL BOOK CATEGORIES in the U.S. and stayed in the top 100 for 3 weeks. My little-known, self-published book was ahead of J.K. Rowling, Tony Robbins and Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster New York Times #1 bestselling book Lean In.
Since that fateful week in July 2013, a lot has happened:
- My follow up book, Change Your Habits Change Your Life, shot to #1 on Amazon, thanks to Business Insider and Yahoo.
- CBS Evening News interviewed me twice about my books and my research.
- I’ve been on TV in Canada, Australia and even India.
- I’ve been profiled in SUCCESS Magazine.
- I’ve been featured in Epoca Magazine, Brazil’s largest weekly magazine.
- I’ve been in Money Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Kiplinger’s Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Reader’s Digest, CNBC, MSN, Forbes and other print and online media outlets, far too numerous to list.
- Some of that media exposure went viral. One Business Insider article received nearly 11 million hits. One of my blog posts went viral on Facebook, with nearly 4 million hits. I have had a dozen media articles that have had 1 million hits or more.
All told, my Rich Habits research has been read or viewed by some 100 million people in 27 countries around the world.
The success of my books, and all of the media attention I received, had people/organizations from all over the world reaching out to me to speak at events.
- I’ve spoken to over 2,500 high school and college students around the US.
- I’ve spoken to millionaires and billionaires at the Titan Summit.
- I’ve spoken on the same stage as Sir Richard Branson.
- I’ve been to Australia numerous times to speak at the very exclusive Wealth Retreat.
- I traveled to Vietnam to speak in front of 3,000 people in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and met Mark Victor Hansen, a co-keynote speaker at the two events.
- I’ve spoken at several conferences in all parts of the U.S.
Thanks to all of the media publicity, I’ve sold nearly 250,000 – 150,000 Self-Published and 100,000 via traditional publishers in 8 countries. That puts me in the top .1% of self-published authors, since most self-published authors sell fewer than 500 books in their entire lifetime.
In 2017 I secured three major international publishers for all three of my self-published books and those books were published in China and South Korea.
In 2018-2020 I secured four more major traditional publishers in India, Vietnam, China (again), Poland, Vietnam, Arabic.
Never quit on your dream. Be persistent and work diligently every day writing and promoting your book. Build relationships with the media and influencers and stay in constant touch with them. Pitch your writing and new content to the media and influencers constantly.
Good luck visits the persistent.
PART III – EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO SUCCEED AS AN AUTHOR
Write & Study Writing Every Day
- You must practice your writing every day.
- You must study other writers.
- You must become a better wordsmith – every day I study the definition of words I might be able to use in my writing.
- You must study phrases – I study phrases that I might be able to use in my writing.
- You must learn the key ingredients to a good book – I study how to describe characters, scenes, how to create plots, how to create a protagonist.
- You must become an expert in the author business – I read thirty or more books on writing prior to writing my first book. I continue to read books and articles about writing and the author business.
Almost every day I write an article related to my Rich Habits research. Plus I write many articles for various major media outlets. Consistently writing helps sharpen my writing skills.
Successful authors do far more reading than they do writing. For me, the Reading to Writing ratio is 8:1 – 8 hours of Reading for 1 hour of Writing.
Reading is not only a necessary part of the research that goes into every book, it also gives you ideas that you can incorporate into your books.
Self-Publish If You Can’t Get a Good Traditional Publisher
If you can’t secure a good traditional publisher, self-publish, if you’re serious about becoming an author. I learned that the less self-publishers cost, the poorer the quality of the product. Good self-publishers have good editors. Good editors find the blemishes in your book. They push you to improve your book – The editors for my first book, Rich Habits, forced me to completely re-write my book twice.
Although good self-publishers cost more, this generally means you get more service and a higher royalty. Depending on the distribution channel, I make between $2 – $9 per book sold.
Amazon’s BookBaby print on demand arm is something I am currently exploring. My initial research seems to indicate that it may be a viable option, for me. The downside is that they do not appear to offer any structural editing or copy editing services as part of their various packages. For first time self-published authors, this is a real disadvantage because first time authors need their manuscripts to be edited in order to produce a quality product. In my opinion, this is better suited for experienced authors, who tend to be pretty good at writing, grammar, structural editing and copy editing.
I know that my self-publisher is good because I entered one of my books, Rich Kids, into 3 contests and won awards in two of those contests:
- Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Publisher Contest and
- The 2015 NY Book Festival.
Create a Great Website
You must have a great website dedicated to your book business. All you need is one website for all of your books.
Make your website media-friendly. Find successful authors’ websites and duplicate their website. Or just duplicate mine, because that’s exactly what I did.
Create a Blog That Links to Your Website
Start a blog. Blogs allow you to practice and perfect your writing skills. They also allow you to share your content with the media and influencers. Incorporate your blog into your website so it becomes one-stop shopping for readers and the media.
Get Subscribers to Your Blog/Website
You want people to subscribe to your website/blog so you can capture their email address and also so you can email them new content. Put the Subscribe Here button front and center on every page of your website. Mine is at the top right of every page. Make it easy for them to find, and simple to subscribe. Devoted subscribers are important because they will help you sell more books. Think of them as your sales force.
Get an Email Database
I initially used MailChimp, then migrated to GoDaddy’s email Marketing platform. I have it set up so that my email marketing automatically captures all new subscribers from my website/blog.
Get a Book-Specific Email Address
You need an email address that is book-specific. Mine is: email@example.com. This way all of your book-related emails are in one place.
Create a YouTube Channel
Gen X & Y like videos. So does the media. If you want to appeal to them, create video content. I created a YouTube channel and I constantly add new video content to it and then post some of that content on my website/blog.
I also do a Tip of the Week. I post my video podcasts with Michael Yardney here.
Videos are easy to embed in emails, articles, pitches to the media, etc.
Promote Your Writing on Social Media Every Day
You should have a Twitter account, Facebook account and a LinkedIn account. I also have Pintrest and Google+ but I mostly ignore them. I use Twitter primarily to pitch the media. If it wasn’t for my relentless Tweet-pitching, I wouldn’t have been interviewed by Yahoo Finance, Dave Ramsey or CBS. And I would not have sold those 100,000 books.
There is a major business model flaw with Facebook and Twitter, however. If, for whatever their reasons, they deem any of your content inappropriate, they will embed code into any of your content you share in an effort to limit its visibility. Once you’re on their list, you will become invisible on those platforms. Here are some alternatives to Facebook and Twitter: https://www.ionos.com/digitalguide/online-marketing/social-media/the-best-facebook-alternatives/
I devote a minimum of one hour a day to social media, oftentimes, much more.
Pitch The Media Relentlessly
In my opinion, seeking and getting media publicity is what separates successful authors from unsuccessful authors. Think about any successful author. Have you seen them on TV, listened to them on the radio or read about them in the media? The answer is yes. Successful authors are masters in promoting themselves to the media.
Writing a book is like the first serve in tennis – the rest of the match = PROMOTION.
An average book can become a huge bestseller, if the author is an exceptional promoter. The most successful authors are not necessarily the best writers but they are the best promoters.
You need to consistently pitch your content to the media.
How do you pitch the media so they will interview you or write about you?
I still don’t know. I’ve been pitching the media every day since 2010. 99.9% of the time they ignore me. But that .1% of the time is why I have sold nearly 100,000 books.
I pitch mostly via Twitter but I also do some email pitches. The people in the media, who I know, all communicate with me via email.
I learned that if you want to succeed as an author, you have to conquer the media. The media = TV, Radio, Internet and Print.
It’s very time-consuming pitching the media, but the more you pitch the media, the better you get at it.
Create a Media Pitch Binder
I keep all of my media pitches in a Media Pitch Binder. This way I can go back to the pitches that worked, find out what I did right, and then duplicate it over and over again.
Maintain a Contact Database
Keep a detailed record of everyone you come into contact with re: your book, especially the media. I use Outlook to document facts about everyone including: # of kids, spouse name, schools they attended, what they like (i.e. flowers/plants), etc. My Outlook automatically feeds into my cell phone.
Say Thank You
Every time someone interviews me or writes an article about me, my books or my research, I thank them via email or via a card.
Every time I get a major media interview or some national media exposure, I send those involved a personalized gift. It’s usually no more than $20 per gift. Most are very appreciative and that helps build a stronger relationship with them. Since few do this, this helps set you apart from your competition.
Respond to the Media Immediately
The media is always on a strict deadline. If you receive an email, phone call or Tweet from someone in the media, respond within 24 hours. That helps build credibility, trust and professionalism. When the media sees you as responsive, you will be among the first they reach out to if they need help with an article they are working on.
Manage Your Expectations Regarding Media Exposure
Most of my media exposure has had very little impact on book sales. But every now and then, for reasons only the book gods know, an interview or media article takes off and books fly out of inventory.
Don’t get pissed off if the media ignores you. Expect them to ignore you. That’s what I do. This way, I’m never disappointed, because I expect to be ignored.
Remember, luck favors the persistent.
Book Inventory and the Media
If you secure a traditional publisher, you don’t need to worry about inventory – they do.
If you self-publish, however, you need to worry about inventory. If one media interview or article goes viral, you will find yourself with thousands of orders for your books. You either fund those book orders or you lose them. If you can’t fund book orders, you instantly lose credibility with readers and booksellers.
Don’t delude yourself into thinking readers will just buy your eBooks or audio books if your print books are unavailable. They won’t. My eBook and audio book sales are consistently about 30% of total book sales. Most people still want to read words on paper.
Create Audio Books
In early 2016, I created two audio books and uploaded them to Audible.com. I consistently sell between 250 – 1,000 Audible books a month. This is an additional revenue stream of between $1,000 – $3,000 a month. Audio books that can be downloaded onto your phone are starting to become big business.
Podcasting is great training ground for honing your message. It took me 2-3 years to figure out how to communicate my research in a way that was of interest to the media and others. Do as many podcasting interviews as you can, in order to figure out how to answer questions about your book.
Write down every question they ask you. Write down every answer to every question. In time, you will commit most of that to memory and sound like an expert. It takes time and practice.
Once you have about a dozen podcast interviews under your belt, then you can, with confidence, move on to radio and hopefully TV or Internet video interviews.
I put all of the questions I’ve ever been asked by podcasters or the media into my Media Interview Binder. More on the Media Interview Binder under Media Interviews below.
Media Pitch Sheet
A Media Pitch Sheet is one page that summarizes who you are, some facts about your book and the topics you can discuss. Attach a 2nd page to the One Page Pitch Sheet for Sample Questions the interviewer can ask you. Keep your Sample Questions at no more than 10. Make sure you have answers written down for each question. This Pitch Sheet and the Sample Questions are also sometimes referred to as the Media Kit. I put my Media Kit on my website under the Media Room page.
Prepare at least thirty minutes for each interview. Find out what the interviewer will focus on. Maintain a Media Interview Binder with a lead sheet for each interview that summarizes the following:
- Name of the media outlet (i.e. The Dave Ramsey Show, WBAL, Fox News, etc).
- Time zone of interviewer.
- Main phone #.
- Hotline #, if radio.
- Host name.
- Producer name.
- Market (i.e. Miami).
- A section for your notes.
- Mailing address of host, interviewer.
- Interview date, interview start time and end time (in your time zone).
- Email addresses of everyone (host/producer).
- Is interview live or taped?
- Who calls who?
- Is interview by phone/skype/in person?
- Do they want copies of your books? If so, how many books do they need?
- Did I send a thank you or a gift after the interview?
- Re: time zones: In the US, if you’re in the eastern time zone – central will be 1 hour earlier than your time zone, mountain will be 2 hours earlier and pacific will be 3 hours earlier than your time zone.
Enter Book Contests
Enter as many as you can afford. They range from $50 – $200. I entered Rich Kids in three contests. I really just wanted to find out if I was as good a writer as I thought I was.
Rich Kids won The 2015 NY Book Festival.
Rich Kids was runner up in the Writer’s Digest 2015 Self-Published Book Awards Contest.
Getting runner-up in the Writer’s Digest contest confirmed, in my mind, that I was indeed a very good writer because Writer’s Digest is the trade publication for professional writers.
Winning, or placing in the book contests won’t result in more books sales but it does give you gravitas. I promote the awards on my website, in all my bios, in my new books and to the media. It also will help you down the road if your end game is getting a traditional publisher.
Get Book Reviews
Getting legitimate book reviews won’t help you sell books but it will give you added credibility. With Amazon taking over the book industry, Amazon reviews are more relevant. Build your Amazon book review #s by habitually asking readers to review your books.
If you have a passion for your book business, you will find the time to do all this stuff.
If you don’t, you won’t.
My story is still being written:
- In 2018, the 6th largest publisher in the world, China South Publishing & Media published two of my books – Rich Habits and Change Your Habits Change Your Life. I received a big advance and the first run was 15,000 books. In 2020, they did a second print for 15,000 books. 15,000 is a significant initial print for any author, let alone a self-published author. This is what every self-published author dreams about – getting a top traditional publisher to publish their book. My first happened to be in China – the fastest growing economy in the world, the most populated country in the world, with a middle-class approaching 600 million.
- South Korea’s #1 literary agency, KCC solicited me in 2016 to have Change Your Habits Change Your Life translated and published in South Korea. That book was released in 2018 and has gone through two additional prints.
- In 2019, Embassy Books, a large traditional publisher in India, published my much improved 2nd Edition of Rich Habits and Change Your Habits Change Your Life.
- In 2019 MC Books, a traditional publisher in Vietnam, published all four of my books.
- In 2019/2021 Yuan Liou, a prestigious traditional publisher in China, published Rich Habits Poor Habits and my newest book, Effort-Less Wealth.
- In 2020, Kompania Mediowa, a traditional publisher in Poland, published Rich Habits Poor Habits and Rich Kids.
- In 2021 Jarir Bookstore will release Rich Habits, 2nd Edition in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar & UAE.
- Thanks to all of the media attention I received since July 2013, I’ve since received numerous requests to speak all over the world. In most cases, I charge between $7,500 -$15,000, depending on the location, for each 60-90 minute speaking engagement. This is another new revenue stream for me. Right now, it’s a small one. But, other more successful authors that I met at these speaking engagements told me that the more books I sell, the more speaking engagements I’ll get.
- In 2020 I self-published my 5th book, Effort-Less Wealth – Smart Money Strategies at Every Stage of Your Life. In 2021, Yuan Liou released this book in China in 2021.
I’ve been at this author business since 2009.
Below are the three most important things that lead to success, as an author:
- Write Every Day – You have to write every day in order to become a good writer.
- Promote Every Day – You have to consistently promote what you write every day to the media and influencers.
- Never Quit on Your Dream – Believe in yourself and your dream and never stop trying. You have to be persistent and relentless in the pursuit of your dream. Persistence creates luck and you need luck in order to succeed as an author.
Becoming a successful author is not a pipe dream, even if you are forced to self-publish. Many famous authors started out, like me, a self-published author. Mark Twain, for instance, was initially a self-published author. Also, A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, was originally self-published.
I’m happy to help and that help is just an email away: Tom@richhabits.net.
Don’t phone me, email me. Phone calls take too much time. Plus, this way, I can print out your email and read it in the early mornings, when I do my Rich Habits reading.
If I can do it, you can do it.
Never Quit on Your Dream – Luck Favors the Persistent